George W. Bush’s Puzzling WMD Coverup

How to prevent the president from deceiving Congress and the American people, regardless of who controls the White House.

David McNew/Getty

The most shocking revelation by The Daily Beast, The New York Times and other news sources in reporting on weapons of mass destruction in Iraq is that the Bush Administration so aggressively fought to suppress the truth about them.

The entire world was understandably focused on finding chemical and biological forensics after toppling Saddam Hussein in 2003, as it was a top argument for the operation. Yet investigations supposedly uncovered no evidence of older weapons or an active program.

We now know with more certainty that at least one of those conclusions was wrong. Media reports from various sources indicate that vast quantities of old stocks of WMD were scattered throughout the country and endangering members of the U.S. military.

It isn’t exactly news to those of us who had been investigating the issue. Nearly a decade ago, a declassified Pentagon intelligence report determined that coalition forces had recovered some 500 munitions containing degraded mustard or sarin nerve agents. In reality we now know that the numbers of munitions was actually much higher.

But for reasons we may never fully know, elements of the Bush White House did not want to acknowledge their existence. They were engaged in a forceful and effective campaign to keep this information from Congress, the press and the American people.

The U.S. military didn't effectively support efforts by the multinational Iraq Survey Group to locate evidence of WMD, saying that they lacked the resources to become involved. Despite repeated and specific questioning, the military never acknowledged facts or implications of troops locating the dangerous WMDs that are now in the news.

The administration itself routinely discounted and dismissed leaked reports and unverified accounts.

Future researchers may eventually discover a full understanding as to why the Bush Administration fought to downplay the reports and rumors for so long. For now we can only speculate as to their reasons.

The current administration has been less than forthcoming about events like the Sept. 11, 2012 terror attack in Benghazi, the “Fast and Furious” gunwalking scandal involving Mexican drug cartels, and the IRS’ targeting of conservative organizations.

Government officials have no allowable reasons for withholding critical data from lawmakers. In America, nobody is above the law.

At least three reforms are necessary to strengthen congressional oversight and to provide for a vibrant, free watchdog press to reign in government abuses.

First, Congress needs to enhance and expand immunities for responsible whistleblowers. They are the most effective means of getting to the truth when political considerations can so influence and control the flow of information from the executive branch. We need to embolden them with significant new protections, especially when they're working in defense or the intelligence communities.

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Second, penalties need to be increased for lying or deliberately withholding relevant requested information from Congress. In the many Intelligence Committee hearings on WMD and extensive meetings on the subject in Iraq, we can only begin to imagine the scope of the cover-up and how many people purposefully misled us. Meaningful repercussions and a more effective process of holding people accountable need to be implemented.

Third, Democrats and Republicans need to reestablish the authority of Congress. Too often members of both parties believe that it is their job to protect their president. It is their job to protect the equities of Congress to represent and conduct independent oversight on behalf of the American people

For too long we've experienced the executive branch roll over Congress, the press and the American people. Lawmakers need to put an end to it. They must pass stronger whistleblower protections, increase the severity of punishment for lying, and strengthen bipartisan oversight of the executive branch.

Withholding the truth for political expediency cannot be tolerated in any White House, regardless of who holds the keys at the moment.